A few years ago, I was discussing with then-officers of the HWA the benefits a writer might enjoy by being able to put “Winner of the Bram Stoker Award” on the cover of his award-winning book. They said that sales usually declined for books so decorated.
I have no idea what data they based their observations on, or whether there is any truth to this. But the idea was that any book that found favor with a wide enough readership to become an award-winner was immediately suspect as being very middle of the road and unimaginative.
That reminds me of something one of my editors told me about the New York Times: he claimed if you get a good review in the Times, your sales go up. But that if you get a bad review, your sales go up even more. Ideally, you want a negative review so scathing and damning that people have to buy the book just to see if it could possibly be that bad.
I have to admit to having gone enough years as an “also ran” in terms of winning awards to have been a little shocked when I actually won something, and wondering, before I actually got around to cashing the prize money, what was wrong with the book that actually allowed it to win. Having been on prize committees since, I guess I feel that sometimes it’s a negotiation between strong-willed and diametrically opposed judges which leads to the safest book coming to the fore, but that this happens much less often than anyone outside of the process tends to think. I’ve been pleasantly shocked by how often it works out to give the award to a great book, though also disappointed by some of the books get passed over for finalists or for prizes. And thinking about how Tim Powers (for instance) has been passed over by both the Hugo and the Nebula does make me think that maybe Schopenhauer was right to suggest that the moral and intellectual qualities of dogs are more refined than those of humans (or at least of certain judges).
Bah, Schopenhauer! What did he ever win?
Gary’s list of the never-nominated reminds me that Frederik Pohl groused to me years ago, when I interviewed him at SFRA, that his classic story “Day Million” hadn’t even earned a Nebula nomination at the time of publication, and that was in the day when only three votes were needed to make the ballot. One problem was that “Day Million” first appeared not in an sf magazine or anthology but in Rogue, a men’s magazine, and most of the SFWA membership therefore didn’t see it. Getting the voters to look beyond the stuff readily at hand remains a problem.
Paul: If he did, it would just leave him depressed.
Andy: You mean they weren’t buying Rogue to read the fiction?
Gary’s post makes me feel much better about never having been nominated for or won anything, so much so that I’ve changed my mind about writing that book denouncing my colleagues as frauds and my chosen field of endeavor as a sham.
Andy’s post reminds us of how there are inescapably so many factors that lie outside the text. I suspect the issue of a work being in an out-of-the-way venue may not be as much of an issue as it once was–if “Day Million” had been published last year, there would almost certainly be a link to it somewhere online. What is more of an issue, in my experience on juries, is the sheer number of books and stories published, and the nagging feeling that you’ve missed something, somewhere.